A House Divided

In many ways, hatred dominates Roxanne’s* ’14 life. When her parents explained that they were getting a divorce, Roxanne distinctly remembers them emphasizing that they were going to co-parent. But since that day, they are rarely in the same room and never speak unless absolutely necessary.

“I do not want my parents in the same room because I have seen it happen and it goes terribly, but at the same time I wish they could just put aside their differences and be my parents,” Roxanne said.

Because her parents never speak to each other, Roxanne said it is easy for her to lie about her location by saying she is at one of their homes when she is not.

When she was younger, her parents’ divorce was not as big an issue. As she got older though, the separation has become more of a problem.

“It is very frustrating to every two days have to go back and forth between houses,” Roxanne said. “I keep all of my things packed in a bag and sometimes I just leave it in my car. I have to be very conscious of what I am doing, where I am going and whose house I am going to be at. All my plans have to be centered around this inconvenience.”

But one of the worst results of her parents’ divorce is that her parents have developed a need to compete for her love and attention.

“They try to one-up each other and try to make me like one more than the other,” she said.

Roxanne’s relationship with her father was further weakened after he remarried.

“I would not let my dad be a part of my life for a really long time,” Roxanne said. “I really felt like he had a new family, and I was not a part of it. I did not want to be a part of it. I was just happier at my mom’s house, with my mom and brother, where my old life was still intact.”

When she was younger, Roxanne was wary of her stepmother’s presence and did not want her in the house.

Roxanne was unwilling to form any kind of relationship with her, telling her father that she hated her. Now, however, Roxanne is working to improve her relationship with both her father and stepmother.

“When my stepmom tells me what to do, it is very hard for me to listen to her because she is not my mom,” Roxanne said. “I do not like her telling me what to do, but at the same time it is a hard position for her to be in because she needs to discipline me, but I feel like she does not have the authority to.”

Like Roxanne, Jay* ’14 has a poor relationship with the woman his father began dating immediately after his parents’ divorce.

“My dad is living with his girlfriend and has been dating her for like five years,” Jay said. “I hate my dad’s girlfriend. She’s a terrible human.”

Like Roxanne’s parents, Jay’s parents rarely communicate with one another. Because of this, getting permission for trips or any other type of co-parenting is difficult.

His parents separated when he was 12 years old, and it came as a complete shock.

“I really had no idea because they tried really hard to not fight in front of us,” Jay said. “My brother knew just because he was older, but I was blindsided by it. It seemed like all of this was coming out of the blue. It was just weird to think that they were really happy and then realize that they actually hated each other.”

Because of the façade Jay’s parents had sustained, he thought he lived in an ordinary, close-knit family, so news of the divorce created a change that school counselor Luba Bek often sees in the cases that come to her.

“[The shock of divorce] comes from a really cohesive family unit that used to provide you support, comfort and familiarity,” Bek said. “Life becomes this really confusing maze, and after the divorce you do not know where to go.”

Although Camden* ’14 was aware of his parents’ fighting and sensed that something was wrong, he felt the very same confusion over why his parents could not make their relationship work and never expected their seperation to be handled in court.

“I saw the world through a very small lens,” Camden said. “I just thought it would be easy for it to be fixed overnight, like I wanted them to wake up and get back together so that we could live as a family. I remember just wanting my parents to be happy and live together.”

It was not until years later that Camden learned the main reason for his parents’ divorce was that his father had been saving money for his college tuition, while his mother was spending that money on herself, resulting in their divorce.

While Roxanne’s parents competed for her love, Camden’s mother punished him in order to get back at her ex-husband.

“In order to cope with her pain, she would punish me, so I was often put in the middle,” Camden said. “I definitely held a grudge against my mom for a long time, and I still kind of hold a grudge [against her]. A part of me wishes that she would just come out and apologize and understand that she was wrong, but she’s not that kind of person.”

“The worst case scenario is when the parents put the kid in the middle, that is the most traumatic place to be,” Bek said. “When mom talks about how bad dad is and dad talks about how bad mom is, then the kid is really confused and has no idea what to do and where to go with that.”

Camden says he is still frustrated by the way the divorce was handled, especially when it went to court. While his parents were arguing over custody, a representative came to Camden’s home to ask questions about his living situation and parents. Not understanding the point of the meeting and the effect it would have on the next six years of his life, 12-year-old Camden told the representative that everything was okay with his mom, even though that was not the case.

“I did not understand at the time that what I said would be told in court,”  Camden said. “[The representative] went to the court and said my words exactly. So when my dad would be arguing that I did not like being over there, because it was exactly how I felt, the court heard my statement which sounded neutral, so the court went with my words.”

Although Camden was reluctant, his father thought his son should go to therapy to help him deal with the confusion of the situation.

“I knew it would not help, but at the same time I thought it would not hurt just to know how to be better at dealing with certain situations with my parents,” Camden said. “The therapist told me to use ‘I’ more. ‘I feel sad,’ or ‘I feel angry when this happens.’ And avoid ‘you’ comments like ‘you did this wrong’ or ‘you never do anything for me.’”

Camden said that he did not find therapy very helpful in dealing with his parents, but it did help him deal with future situations by learning to communicate in the best way possible without trying to point a finger at anyone.

“I had been dealing with my parents’ divorce for so long by myself that I had kind of developed my own ways of therapy,” he said.
Camden believes that the divorce has made him the person he is today.

“All of this is very deep within me and hidden,” he said. “It does not really come up that often, like it does not come up with my friends. [The divorce] does not affect me to the point where I can not function, but I mean it bothers me.”

While Bek believes that being put in the middle can be incredibly emotionally draining, she said that some of the worst divorce cases are when one of the parents has an affair.

“It is confusing. It is a sense of betrayal,” she said. “Because if dad is having an affair with somebody, then the kid feels like the dad betrayed not only mom, but him or her too. ‘Why are you doing it to me?’ is the ultimate question.”

Grayson* ’16 was 4 years old when his parents got a divorce, after his father cheated on his mother.

“All I remember is police being at the house because my dad would not leave,” Grayson said.
Grayson’s father ended up moving out of the state entirely, and the two rarely speak to one another, except for an occasional phone call and at Christmas gatherings.

“At this point I know it sounds terrible, but I do not care about what he is doing anymore,” Grayson said. “In a way, I think the divorce kind of benefitted me.”
Bek believes that the most significant relationship in a person’s life is the relationship with the person’s same gender parent. She believes that Grayson is using a defense mechanism to no longer care about the absence of his father, because caring about him would cause a great deal of pain.

Grayson says he has formed a tight bond with his stepfather whom he considers his real father.

“[My stepfather] is integrated completely into my life,” Grayson said. “I love him, and I talk about him as if he is my dad.”

Grayson says that while his mother was single, it was hard for her to handle raising all three of her children alone. Grayson said his eldest brother played a father figure during that time.

“He became that older role model that a young kid wants,” Grayson said.

Like Grayson, several of the students who were interviewed for this story found that, while the relationship with their parents may have weakened, the relationship they shared with their sibling grew stronger.

“I feel like bonding is a common thing with sisters because she is the only person that can know exactly what I am going through, but when she left for college it was a lot harder for me to deal with on my own,” Demi* ‘15 said.

For five years now, Demi’s parents have been separated and have been planning to get a divorce.

“My parents’ relationship fluctuates, and sometimes they get back together,” Demi said. “If your parents are divorced then it is easier to get accustomed to, but, with my situation, it is always changing because sometimes they are together and sometimes they are not. Sometimes I wish that they were divorced.”

“There are very few cases where kids come to me and say thank god my parents are getting divorced,” Bek said. “It happens. The kids get tired of fighting, but, even then, they want their parents to stop fighting — not necessarily get a divorce.”

Like Demi, Roxanne said that she is now happy that her parents got a divorce because she does not understand why they ever got married in the first place. However, she finds it upsetting that her parents’ divorce has fundamentally changed her view of marriage, a result of her parents’ divorce, and she now thinks that she knows the harsh truth about relationships.

“The one thing that I hate about this experience is that it has made me not believe that relationships can be successful,” Roxanne said. “I know that when I am older I want to be married, but I have some issues trusting that [marriage] can work. I do not have a single relationship to look at that has been successful.”

**Additional reporting by Elizabeth Madden

*Names have been changed

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